Following the global spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the lives of many people, both domestically and internationally, has dramatically changed from what was once considered to be normal. These activities have been significantly affected to the point that people are becoming fearful of certain practices and behaviors that were once considered standard and have since become restricted or banned entirely.

The extensive impact of the pandemic has been felt across many communities across the United States. This can also be said for an industry that many Americans depend, which is their pharmacy services.

Prior to the presence of COVID-19, the drug supply chain and its structure were not typically of great concern; however, the pandemic has brought to light the vulnerabilities that can exist but fortunately strategies have been implemented to limit this impact.1

In an effort to flatten the curve and prevent the rampant spread of the virus, the implementation of social distancing measures across many communities has become commonplace.

Pharmacies across the nation are continuing to do their part by working to reduce interactions among customers and avoiding wait times by offering home deliveries, not being as strict on signature requirements, and allowing for 90-day refills.These are examples of some of the current measures that are being implemented to prevent a disruption of services to consumers.2 

Additionally, in an effort to decrease overcrowding and limit person-to-person transmission, remote pharmacy services such as online drug prescribing, medication consultation, and drug delivery services have been established.3 These practices were initially observed in China during the height of the pandemic and have since been implemented by other nations during these uncertain times.3 

Although the format may be remote in nature, pharmacists are still able to educate patients about their medications. From this interaction, they can choose to purchase medications online and then proceed to arrange for home drug delivery if their jurisdiction permits it.3

An example of this practice in the United State is with CVS Pharmacy, which announced a mission to increase access to medication in early March 2020. The company made the decision to waive charges for home delivery services of prescription medications to its customers, which was intended to prevent pople from having to go to their local pharmacy to fill new prescriptions or refill existing prescriptions.4

The same practice was adopted by Walgreens, which sought to work with health plan partners, physicians, and state officials to make sure that patients have access to their medications. Some of the services that the company offers include a secure online platform (Pharmacy Chat) and also drive-through services as an alternative means of coming into the store to pick up their medications.5

The ability to limit as much unnecessary contact as possible is believed to be at the heart of containing the spread of the virus and being able to continue to provide pharmacy services must align with this measure.

Another step that has been taken to combat the potential negative impact of COVID-19 on pharmacy services is the expansion of the role of pharmacists given their accessibility to the public as health care professionals. A number of pharmacy organizations have joined to release recommendations for the practice of pharmacy and the role of pharmacists in the midst of the COVID-19 response, which include easing some operational barriers.

For instance, allowing for flexible pharmacy staffing to authorize pharmacists and staff to conduct routine work remotely, temporarily allowing staff to work in other locations, or waiving the proof of receipt requirement to decrease unnecessary contact with sick individuals.6

The goal of the current format for retail pharmacy services is to continue providing people with the medications they need to maintain their health and longevity during the pandemic. This can only be achieved through a collaborative effort among pharmacies, state officials, physicians, pharmacists, and consumers.

References
  1. ASHP. Pharmacy readiness for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). 2020. Retrieved from https://www.ashp.org/-/media/assets/advocacy-issues/docs/Pharmacy-Readiness-for-Coronavirus-Disease-2019-COVID-19-FEDERAL.ashx?la=en&hash=94E0B4D8426BE700190B71651387D8005067FA96
  2. Young H & Shay A. Retail pharmacies are rising to the COVID-19 challenge. 2020. Retrieved from  https://www.morganlewis.com/pubs/retail-pharmacies-are-rising-to-the-covid-19-challenge
  3. Liu S, Luo P, Tang M, et al. Providing pharmacy services during the coronavirus pandemic. Int J Clin Pharm. 2020;42(2):299-304. doi:10.1007/s11096-020-01017-0
  4. CVS Health. CVS Health response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 2020. Retrieved from https://cvshealth.com/newsroom/press-releases/cvs-health-response-coronavirus-outbreak
  5. Walgreens. Walgreens takes further action to  support customers during COVID-1I pandemic. 2020. Retrieved from https://news.walgreens.com/covid-19/walgreens-takes-further-action-to-support-customers-during-covid-19-pandemic.htm
  6. APHA. Pharmacist as front-line responders for COVID-19 patient care. 2020. Retrieved from https://www.pharmacist.com/sites/default/files/files/APHA%20Meeting%20Update/PHARMACISTS_COVID19-Final-3-20-20.pdf